National Curriculum

Educational App Store explains everything you need to know about the National Curriculum for English primary schools.

What is the National Curriculum?

The national curriculum is outlined by the Department for Education (DfE). The national curriculum is a set of subjects that are to be taught across schools in England and Wales, ensuring a shared approach to education in school's, covering the shared subject matter.

The current National Curriculum for England has been in place since September 2014. It's a set of subjects and standards for all maintained schools in England to follow, ensuring that children throughout the country learn the same things.

The National Curriculum is designed to be 'balanced and broadly based.' The aim is to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils, and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

How the National Curriculum is organised

In primary schools, there's a set curriculum for Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) and Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6). Key Stage 2 is often split into lower Key Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4) and upper Key Stage 2 (Years 5 and 6). Key Stages 3 and 4 are taught in secondary schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) sets a programme of study for each National Curriculum subject, year by year. It tells schools what they should be teaching during a particular school year, desired outcomes for the end of each key stage, and guidance (not mandatory) for how to teach the programme of study.

Compulsory national curriculum subjects

The main focus of the National Curriculum is the three core subjects:

  • English
  • Maths 
  • Science

There are also eight foundation subjects:

  • Art and design
  • Computing
  • Design and technology
  • Languages
  • Geography
  • History
  • Music
  • PE

Religious education (RE) is another national curriculum subject taught in primary school, however, parents can decide whether they want their children to take part in RE lessons. Other subjects, including personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship and sex education are optional national curriculum subjects that become more prevalent in KS3 and KS4.

Tests and Assessments

At the end of each Key Stage, including KS1, children’s abilities are formally assessed. How well they do in these assessments is measured against the level expected by the Government. The different tests and assessments that are taken by pupils in KS1 and KS2 are also outlined by the national curriculum. These tests and assessment include:

  • Year 1 phonics screening check: assessment taken in June to assess a child's reading ability. Children read out 40 words to a teacher, the teacher will then decide whether a child needs further help with reading. This test is then repeated in Year 2.
  • KS1 English: English reading assessment along with grammar, punctuation and spelling.
  • KS1 Maths
  • KS2 National Tests: Taken in May at the end of KS2. These include English reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling and a maths assessment.

What are SATs?

National Curriculum tests taken by primary school pupils are also known as SATs (standard attainment tests). Their main purpose is to make comparing schools easier. How well their pupils perform in SATs is how schools are ranked in league tables.

What is the Eleven-Plus?

It’s not a part of the National Curriculum, but many primary school children will have to take another exam – the Eleven-Plus (11+). Even though it’s now quite rare, I think it deserves a mention in this guide to primary education.